Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

One of the men from northern India in my forgiveness and reconciliation class shared an amazing story with me today: When he had gone off to college his younger brother had joined a rebel group that was fighting for local autonomy for the region they lived in. In a confrontation with another rebel group his brother was shot and killed. His family wasn't even able to find and bury his body. Later, he said that he was hanging out with some local guys and one of them was getting a bit drunk. With his tongue loosened up he began to brag about killing someone. My friend realized that he was talking about his brother.

Later, as a Christian, he realized that he had to forgive this man for what he had done and with God's help he was able to. Later, this man realized that the man he had killed was my friend's brother and he came to confess and apologize. Long story short, they were reconciled and this other man eventually became a Christian. His brother's death and this subsequent reconciliation was the impetus that pushed him to begin work in peace. He has now finished his doctor's thesis in development in conflict regions. "Imagine: my brother's killer is now one of my best friends."

These are the kind of stories that have framed our reconciliation and forgiveness class. This is how new life begins in the midst of the most hopeless of situations.

There are many mistaken notions of what reconciliation and forgiveness consist of. Here are some points regarding reconciliation:

1) Forgiveness is done by one person. It is not reconciliation, only one element in it. Reconciliation the righting of relationships between two parties.

2) Forgiveness is NOT the same as forgetting.

3) Forgiving is not condoning and it does not imply impunity. Often perpetrators push others to forgive them, so that they can keep their position of power thinking that if they are forgiven they can escape responsibility.

4) Reconciliation between groups is more than just getting people to relate well interpersonally (as opposed to the pop culture perception as seen in most movies such as "Remember the Titans") it also involves changing the systems and structures that divide (such as racial segregation in schools and economic inequalities, for example).